Authors : B. Sultana, Q. Lejeune, I. Menke, G. Maskell, K. Lee, M. Noblet, I. Sy, P. Roudier
Affiliated organizations : Climate Services, ISIpedia, CLIMAP
Site of publication : sciencedirect.com
Type of publication : Report
Date of publication : 17, March 2020
Climate services: bridge the gap between science and practice
Although data and many publications are publicly available, there are major obstacles that limit access to, reliance on and use of this information in decision-making processes. These limitations – or barriers- include, amongst others, a mismatch between the high complexity of the model outputs made available (format, size) and the basic IT skills of users, technicalities of the outputs that render their interpretation and application difficult, the lack of relevant and usable information on the associated limitations and uncertainties, inappropriate spatial and temporal scales of the information provided in scientific publications or reports.
Climate services were established to bridge this gap between science and practice and to respond to the needs of decision-makers for information on climate change and its impacts.
In 2009, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) adopted the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to strengthen existing initiatives and develop new infrastructure where needed, providing climate information in a way that assists individual and organisational decision-making in all sectors affected, at global, regional and local scales.
The first step for an effective climate services should be identifying potential users and their needs to translate useful information from producers of climate services into usable information as required by users. In their broad definition, climate services encompass the contextualization of long-term (several years) climate projections as well as short-term (some days) meteorological information. However, in this paper, we only focus on the first type of climate services.
The challenge of climate services in West Africa
While many countries in the world are developing their own national climate services, they have reached different levels in their implementation. Currently in West African countries most attention is paid to early stages of climate service development, such as the focus on ensuring appropriate data management and the fully operational provision of weather and seasonal forecasts.
In 2009, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) adopted the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to strengthen existing initiatives and develop new infrastructure where needed, providing climate information in a way that assists individual and organisational decision-making in all sectors affected, at global, regional and local scales
Several interrelated challenges complicate the development of climate services in the region. First, Africa critically lacks climate data as it has a weather, climate and hydrology observation network in a nascent stage, with only 1/8 of the required density and less than 300 weather stations with signs of deteriorating quality according to WMO standards. As a result, data to calibrate and validate climate models are significantly scarcer. Impact models also often exhibit lower performance because most of them are initially developed for temperate areas, which does not systematically suit West Africa. Moreover, a multitude of infrastructure issues constitute a third challenge.
In an attempt to address the needs for climate services in West Africa, two initiatives, CLIMAP and ISIpedia, were recently launched and have engaged stakeholders in the development of portals. The CLIMAP portal, on one hand, will deliver climate and climate-impact information in Senegal and is funded by the French Ministry for an Ecological and Solidary Transition, the NERC/DFID Future Climate for Africa programme and by the French Development Agency. The ISIpedia portal, on the other hand, will be delivering climate-impact information for individual countries and a number of sectors (health, agriculture, water, biodiversity, energy, etc.) based on the results from ISIMIP.
Profile of the respondents
The structures of ISIpedia-WA and CLIMAP were relatively similar. However, CLIMAP had more respondents from international or supranational organisations whereas more ISIpedia respondents identified themselves as being from academia or a research institution.
The breakdown of the respondents’ climate service use purposes further helped identify the current users of climate services. Among the ISIpedia survey respondents from West Africa, the overwhelming majority (91%) uses climate-impact information to “[support] the development of adaptation strategies and plans”. In parallel, the biggest portion (26%) of the CLIMAP survey respondents indicated that their purpose for using future climate projections is “vulnerability studies”, which is consistent across different organisational type except for “private company”.
Other common uses of climate-impact information for West African ISIpedia respondents include “public outreach and awareness” (57%), “input for academic research” (52%) and “lobbying decision makers” (48%). The panels of West African (in the case of ISIpedia) or Senegalese (in the case of CLIMAP) respondents consist mostly of staff members from governments, international organisations, research institutions, and to a lesser extent from NGOs who contribute to the development of national or territorial adaptation strategies and plans via participatory processes.
Current and potential use of climate and climate-impact information
The results of the ISIpedia survey indicate a high frequency of use of climate-impact information globally, with 62% of respondents using it daily or weekly and a similar share in West Africa (66%). On the contrary, the CLIMAP survey indicates a lower frequency of use of climate projections, with a majority of survey respondents using them occasionally (33%), monthly (19%) or annually (12%).
Notably, the main interest of the CLIMAP survey respondents consisted of sectoral data such as agricultural yields or water resources rather than purely climatic information. The general dissatisfaction of the CLIMAP survey respondents with accessing and using climate projections, as well as the discrepancies between the type of information they are looking for and the one they are currently using, therefore suggests a need for more appropriate climate services to fill the gap between their potential use of climate information and their actual one.
The irrelevance or incompleteness of the existing information on climate or climate impacts were selected as the most important barriers to the use of such information by the respondents from both surveys. Since information on climate and climate impacts typically comes from models running at a resolution of roughly 0.25-3°, it indeed gets more uncertain as one focuses on features of this spatial scale
Both surveys show a strong interest in projections to 2050
2050 was the most and the second most selected answers to the corresponding question in the CLIMAP and ISIpedia survey respectively. Overall, the preferences expressed by the panel of respondents from both surveys reveal an interest in the provision of climate(-impact) information for several time horizons: the time horizons included in policy documents (consistent with the fact that climate(-impact) information is mostly used among the respondents to support the development of national and territorial-level adaptation plans), the current period and the coming years (roughly, 1–20) for several organisation types but especially for strategic and economic planning, and by 2050 (especially for research purposes).
Limitations of available climate services in West Africa
The irrelevance or incompleteness of the existing information on climate or climate impacts were selected as the most important barriers to the use of such information by the respondents from both surveys. Since information on climate and climate impacts typically comes from models running at a resolution of roughly 0.25-3°, it indeed gets more uncertain as one focuses on features of this spatial scale.
Other important barriers that are in the “irrelevance or incompleteness of the existing information” category can be a lack of “information for the relevant time horizon,” “on a particular topic,” or “sectoral or cross-sectoral information,” as these were selected by at least a quarter of all West African respondents, with similar numbers globally.
Strikingly, an “inconsistent or unstable Internet connection” was mentioned three times more often as a barrier to accessing climate-impact information among the West African respondents to the ISIpedia survey (52%) than globally (15%), making it the second most selected answer to the corresponding question in the region. Overall, these results seem to indicate that the quality of the Internet connection can constitute a hindrance to the provision of information by climate services in West Africa, and that in this respect, the specifics of each country need to be considered. Almost half of the responses to the ISIpedia survey originating from West Africa (11) reported cost as a barrier to accessing climate-impact information.
The “lack of competency to deal with data” (30%) was the second most chosen problem while using climate projections by the CLIMAP survey respondents. This result, along with the fact that almost half of the ISIpedia survey respondents from West Africa selected “lack of training to understand or use the information or data found” as a barrier (18% more than the global average), points to an essential need for appropriate online and offline capacity-building activities to accompany the provision of information on climate and climate impacts, and thus promoting their uptake by the targeted users.
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